The Worst Imaginable Thing


lisa fabrega

I was listening to Bob Iger’s book “The Ride of A Lifetime” in my car while I was on vacation recently. The opening was so intense and riveting; I was 30 minutes late to my doctor’s appointment because I lost track of time.

Several years back, one of the worst imaginable tragedies that ever happened at Disney happened. A 2-year-old boy was playing at the edge of a lagoon on the Disney resort property he and his family were staying at when an alligator killed him. 

It was horrendous. I remember watching it on the news and feeling so devastated for his family. But at the time, I never thought about how the CEO of Disney had reacted to such news. I just assumed they’d pull a typical corporate tactic of trying to hush it up.

But that’s not what happened, according to Bob’s book. 

Bob knew this incident had never happened in the history of Disney World. And it was a BIG deal. Our business manager was recently telling me about Disney’s five company values. The top value is safety, and yet, a 2-year-old child had died under their watch in a most horrific way. 

I listened with tears in my eyes as he described sobbing every day. Most CEO’s of such huge corporations would protect themselves with a PR team, but he called the parents of the child personally and openly wept with them, offering unlimited support and giving them his personal cell number for anything they needed. 

While this tragedy was happening, he had to launch a massive effort to check every single one of the lagoons on the property (over 80 I believe he mentioned) and remove all alligators from the property (not easy to do in Florida, land of the alligators). AND he was in the middle of opening up Disney World in China, a huge project the entire company had been focused on for years.

I listened in disbelief as he described standing on the stage opening the doors to the new park in China, then going back to his hotel room and crying his eyes out about this poor 2 year old boy and his family.

You know what I thought of when that story was over? Wow, what capacity. Because when I think of what could probably be the worst capacity challenge a CEO could face, that’s probably #1. 

Instead of trying to eschew responsibility and save face, he was vulnerable. He took responsibility. He made sure this would never happen again. And he still showed up to all his other obligations as a CEO.

These are situations for which there are NO playbooks on how to handle. This is when having prioritized our capacity as much as our strategies makes a difference. It allows you to navigate challenges that most people wouldn’t know what to do with.

When we grow into every next level of our business, lives, or leadership, we don’t know what challenges will come with that next level of growth. Over the last 12 years being the CEO of my own business, I’ve run into so many situations where we encounter an issue no one knows how to solve. And all eyes are on me to come up with the solution. 

Whether those challenges you face as you grow are big or small, known or unknown, the most important question I want you to ask yourself today is:

Do you have the capacity to match the next level you’re trying to achieve?

What happens if your entire tech system melts down in the middle of your big launch, and you get 500 angry emails in your inbox from customers? Can you handle that not only quickly but remain calm and grounded WITHOUT a meltdown while leading your team to a victory?

What if your most important team member decides to quit during a launch? Do you become a pile of defeat, or do you step up without freaking out and handle it with ease?

What if your partner hands you divorce papers during the busiest period in your business, or a tragedy happens in your family? (This happened to me when my cousin was murdered in the middle of a huge launch and I had to go to his funeral while seeing my launch through to the end.)

What if an untrue news article comes out about you, and it goes viral? Or a team member decides to triangulate other team members against you and stage a walkout?

Some of these challenges may seem far away for you, so you don’t think about them as possible for you… But you should think about whether or not you’re CURRENTLY building the capacity to handle them, because the more you grow, the bigger the challenges. 

Bob Iger, considered to be one of the best CEO’s Disney has ever had, didn’t just magically know how to handle that horrible situation with the compassionate leadership he displayed. That was YEARS of building capacity, preparing him to navigate a moment no one can truly prepare for with any strategy. Strategies go out the window in times like those. 

While I’m ALL for self-care and NOT buying into “hustle culture,” it’s unavoidable. There are times in life where you can’t drop any of the balls you have in the air, and your presence is needed WHILE a challenge is going on. 

And if you aren’t building your capacity now with the smaller challenges that currently come your way and you keep thinking another strategy is all you need… well you certainly won’t be equipped to handle the bigger challenges that come as you grow.

Everyone wants a seven-figure business… but no one thinks about whether or not they’re prepared to handle the types of team, structural, cash flow, and leadership issues that come with those seven figures.

Everyone wants a viral TikTok that blows up their business… but few stop to think about building the capacity needed to seize upon that opportunity properly when the time comes. How many viral TikToks have you seen, and then the content creator is scrambling to monetize it unsuccessfully because they didn’t have the capacity to handle going viral.

Do you know how many people made it to Oprah’s Favorite Things list and couldn’t handle the demand? They lost out on valuable sales because they had to shut down ordering just a few hours after appearing on the list, not being able to deliver upon THAT many orders. One guy even had to move his entire family into his factory to meet the demand and didn’t see his kids for a month… 

Everyone wants the media snippet, and the publicity shout-out. But few stop to think about whether or not they have the capacity to navigate intrusive questions, WiFi dropping, or going totally blank and freezing in the middle of your live TV interview.

Success is not just about setting the vision and “making the vision happen” with strategies. In fact, strategies are only 30% of that equation. What matters even more than strategy is whether or not you have the capacity to navigate the challenges that will come at every level of your growth, WITHOUT sabotaging it, freezing, or showing up in a way that doesn’t align with your true values.

Capacity, not strategy, is what makes powerful CEOs. Bob Iger is such a successful CEO he’s tried to retire numerous times, and they literally cannot find a replacement as good. They keep bringing him back. He’s credited with bringing more heart to the organization, and he respects and fosters the creativity of his team. Disney has produced some of its greatest works of art under his leadership.

That’s mostly because of his capacity. Not his strategy.